U.S. Citizenship Eligibility Explained

For individuals hoping to complete their application on their own, applying for citizenship can be daunting. There are multiple requirements to meet and forms to complete. And if there are any mistakes, the U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS) may reject your petition.

One of the first steps in that long process is determining if you’re eligible to apply for citizenship. To do this, you must complete the USCIS Form N-400 U.S. Citizenship application.

There are a few paths to citizenship; in this post, we’ll deal with requirements for those who have had a green card for at least five years.

sunrise silhouette of family waving american flags
A sunrise silhouette of a family waving American flags. Achieving U.S. citizenship like this family can take time. The first step is ensuring that you’re eligible.

What Is the Eligibility for U.S. Citizenship?

Naturalization is how an individual who wasn’t born in the U.S. can voluntarily receive their American citizenship. The most frequent route to achieving this is by becoming and remaining a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for a minimum of five years. 

However, before completing and submitting your naturalization petition, you are required to meet specific mandates for eligibility. Yet, not every requirement applies to every individual. Your personal requirements will depend on your unique situation.

Age and Status Requirements 

To apply for U.S. citizenship, you must be: 

  • At least 18 years old at the time of your filing 
  • A green card, or LPR, holder for three or five years before you file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization

English and Civics Test Requirements

You’ll also be required to read, write, and speak English during the citizenship test, one of the final steps to becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization.

Additionally, the USCIS interviewer will ask you about your knowledge of U.S. history and government. These questions will make up the civics portion of the naturalization test. 

A Determination of Good Moral Character

To be eligible for U.S. citizenship, you must also prove to the USCIS that you are a person of good moral character. You must demonstrate this good moral character requirement during the five years you have lived as a legal permanent resident.

According to the USCIS, an immigration officer can use any time during those five years to make good moral character determination which they define as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”

Items that can impact a good moral character determination include past criminal convictions, statements you provide, and oral testimony during the naturalization interview.

Demonstrate an Attachment to the U.S. Constitution

Another U.S. citizenship eligibility requirement is to establish proof of attachment to the U.S. Constitution

Because the United States government was founded on the Constitution, the USCIS requires an applicant to “show that he or she has been and continues to be a person attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.”

Residency Requirements for U.S. Citizenship Eligibility

To qualify for U.S. citizenship, you must have continuous residence within the United States for five years before your naturalization application submission date. To show continuous residency, you may need to prove where you lived within those five years. 

If for some reason, you leave the U.S. for an extended period of six months or more, you will likely disrupt your continuous residency. Disrupting your residence continuity may force you to have to wait another five years (or four years and one day) after you return to the U.S. to apply for citizenship.

Physical Presence in the United States

The following requirement is similar but different from the continuous residency requirement. As a green card holder applying for naturalization, you must be physically present in the U.S. for two-and-a-half years (or 30 months) of the five-year (60-month) continuous residence requirement.  

Physical presence essentially means you can document that you were physically in the United States for two and a half years. In addition, the USCIS requires that you live in the state or USCIS district that will be handling your application for at least three months. 

Plus, you’re required to maintain a permanent home within the United States from when you apply for naturalization until the day you become a citizen.

What Makes You Ineligible for U.S. Citizenship?

If you are applying for U.S. citizenship, it is a good idea to understand what may disqualify you from becoming a naturalized citizen. Being charged with, arrested, or convicted of a crime or other unlawful act may achieve this. 

Though not every civil violation or crime will bar you entirely from achieving naturalization; however, many acts do, and others could raise important questions regarding the good moral character requirement.

If you are unsure about your past, you may need to consult with an immigration attorney to analyze your records and determine which legal violations or crimes (foreign or domestic) may delay or block your citizenship application.

Crimes That Will Permanently Deny You Citizenship

You will be denied U.S. citizenship permanently and automatically if you were convicted of:

  • An aggravated felony if your conviction was finalized after Nov. 29, 1990  
  • Murder

The USCIS agent who reviews your N-400 application will be required to deny your naturalization application automatically. Additionally, once the USCIS realizes you have serious crimes like these on your record, you will likely be placed into deportation (removal) proceedings.

Crimes That Temporarily Prevent Petitioners From Citizenship

There are specific crimes that lead to temporary disqualification from citizenship. If, following the date the crime happened, you wait for three or five years (the same timeframe as your LPR requirement), you might still receive your American citizenship. 

Nonetheless, the USCIS could still deny your application after considering your past actions; however, you will at least have the opportunity to demonstrate that your good moral character outweighs any past indiscretions.

An example of crimes or acts that may cause you to be ineligible for citizenship temporarily include:

  • A conviction of at least two crimes where the combined sentence lengths caused you to spend a total of five or more years in prison
  • A conviction of two or more crimes involving illegal gambling
  • Fraud or other crimes that include moral turpitude
  • Hiring a prostitute or other illegal vice activities
  • Operating a vice enterprise for profit, including prostitution, selling pornography, running a call-girl ring
  • Possessing or selling illicit drugs (other than a solitary offense involving marijuana in an amount less than 30 grams)
  • Spending a minimum of 180 days in jail

To ensure citizenship eligibility, talk to a lawyer if any of your past activities or crimes resemble those on this list. Your immigration lawyer can help you determine how long until you should apply following your conviction date.

Verifying Your Eligibility With FileRight.com

If for some reason, you are not eligible to apply for naturalization, the USCIS will reject your application almost as quickly as they receive it. Rejections can further delay the process of naturalization if you’re not careful.

FileRight offers a free U.S. Citizenship qualification quiz that will tell you if you meet basic eligibility requirements after answering a few simple questions. That way, you can be sure you’ll be allowed to fill out the application beforehand.

Once you complete the eligibility quiz, you can get started with your application right away. Our mission at FileRight is to streamline the immigration process and ensure that you’ve filed your application correctly. Contact us and get started on your path to citizenship today!

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